In my past life, which means before kids--a time that I have to admit I struggle to remember, I was an actor.
The company that I was a part of performed on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights and would then also have a Sunday matinee. It became very easy to know what kind of audience to expect on each of the performances.
Thursday nights the crowd would be alive because it was close to the weekend, and their hopes were high! Friday nights crowds were always snoozers because the people were always too tired from the week at work to react to anything anymore. The audience on Saturday night was always fun. After all they had relaxed all day and were in weekend mode. And Sundays audience were referred to as the "Blue Hairs" and would seldom react to anything at all but generally seemed pleased.
As actors we had to adjust the way that we performed so that it would compliment the blah or excited audience. This was easy to achieve, and we all did it effortlessly, and this mindset has transitioned into how I adjust my voice for an audience while writing scholarly papers.
However, this task is not easy for some people, and I have heard students in the Writing Center complain about it. It goes something like this, "A new semester rolls around and BOOM - new teachers! New expectations! Crap! After I just mastered writing the way my professor wanted. Now I have this new teacher, and I can't figure out what he wants, and when I sit down to write everything that I write just sounds like garbage. I know I'm not a bad writer, I just can't seem to write to this audience." That is when I say, "Well, then...forget about your audience."
Which is generally followed by a long pause and blank stare.
FORGET ABOUT YOUR AUDIENCE? Really? Isn't that a rather bold move?
At first, I thought that it was, and I worried that my first year writing professor might have somehow sensed me saying this and had a mild stroke. But then I came across a very famous article by Peter Elbow, and if you don't know who he is...FIND OUT...he is all sorts of amazing, and I have a mild crush on him. The article is titled "Closing My Eyes as I Speak: An Argument for Ignoring Audience."
In this article Elbow suggests that "When we realize that an audience is somehow confusing or inhibiting us, the solution is fairly obvious. We can ignore that audience altogether during the stages of writing and direct our words only to ourselves or to no one in particular--or even to the 'wrong' audience...This strategy often dissipates the confusion" (52.)
Although the writing that you produce, while ignoring your audience, may seem sloppy or not professor acceptable, remember that this is just a rough draft. The important part of this exercise is that it enables you to start writing!
I once had a professor that told me that I could never ever ever start a sentence with the word "So." So (take that!) it was all that I could think about while writing the paper. I worked so hard to write a paper without using "so" at all, that when it was done, it just didn't sound like me, and it also was a terrible paper. My heart wasn't in it, and the important message that I was trying to convey was lost in the disjointed "I'm trying to please my professor" style of writing.
That is when I decided that I should just forget about this professor and just write my paper. When I started writing with no one in mind, just writing to get what I wanted to say on the paper, everything went so much smoother.
I am a firm believer in the fact that audience is very important, but if you are struggling writing for that audience, I suggest that you take Elbow's advice and forget about it.
Once you get the writing done, you can go back and tweak your paper for your intended audience. Change some words if you have to or revise what you had written. Delete all those sentences that started with "So" and so on and so forth. Adjusting your voice, yourself, your ethos can be very hard to do, but it is not impossible. If you find you are struggling writing those start of the semester "getting comfortable" papers, just get self-centered and think of you. There is time to revise those written words, so become self-focused and write that bad boy ... forget about that audience of blue hairs out there. Instead play to an audience of none.
Interested in reading Peter Elbow's totally rad article? See below for the citation.
Elbow, Peter. "Closing My Eyes as I Speak: An Argument for Ignoring Audience." 49.1 (1987) : 50-69. Print.